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Saturday, 28 September 2013


Literature throws us many great heroes.  Real life invariably outdoes them.

So said veteran author Wilbur Smith who has come up with a real-life story of his own.  The eighty-year-old, whose 34th book Vicious Circle is out next month is looking for someone to write his books! At first, when we heard he was providing six new storylines for Harper Collins, most people assumed he would co-write them.  Instead, he is looking for a younger version of himself to do the work.
As you form an orderly queue remember that this is a man with very strong views on artistic talent who is used to getting what he wants. You should be in your early thirties with one or two novels to your credit but yet to achieve the heights of success. As Wilbur Smith has sold 122 million novels worldwide,  he could be quite a hard act to follow...
The much-travelled author of  River God, The Song Bird, Birds of Prey and the Sound of Thunder  has tongue in cheek memories of his early days as a writer. My first novel was rejected by some of the most eminent publishers.  Starting again was a real wrench.
Wilbur Smith will be speaking at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on October 10 at 2pm.
I'm sure there won't be an empty seat in the house.

Saturday, 21 September 2013


I was born twice. So begins Jamrach's Menagerie written by Lancaster author Carol Birch - an exceptional novel which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011.  It's a brilliant beginning to a beautifully written book that had me turning the pages almost faster than I could read.


Described by the Mail on Sunday as 'Moby Dick, Treasure Island and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner...with a pinch of Dickens all in one pot,' this is an epic story full of beautiful if graphic imagery.

Carol, author of eleven novels, was guest speaker at  a highly successful Writers' Day organised by   the Lancashire Word at Astley Hall Chorley this weekend. She gave an amazingly honest and entertaining account of her somewhat tortuous rise to fame. 'There were times when I wanted to give up writing,' she said, 'to earn what people call a proper living, but something made me carry on.'

The book's hero, Jaffy Brown, is eight years old when the book opens and destined to live his life in the slums of Victorian London.  A chance encounter with 'the magnetic Mr Jamrach'  sends him off on a ship bound for the Indian Ocean and more adventure than anyone could possibly expect in an entire lifetime.  Some of the writing is fantasy, some of it is gruesome, but every word has been carefully chosen to heighten all the senses.
Today's event, described as  'One Day in Lancashire to celebrate good writing' included talks by fiction and non-fiction writers Zoe Lambert and Peter Moore,  as well as book designers Ned Hoste and Ed  Christiano.

It was a brilliant chance to mix with fellow writers, meet old friends and, of course, make some new ones. Special thanks go to Alan Whelan, Tim Gavell, AJ Noon, John Rutter, Jon Poutney, Heather Carey and Jane Brunnin for organising the event.You can find out more about The Lancashire Word on


Friday, 13 September 2013


A 101-year-old author  flew from New York to Northampton this week for the stage premier of his 1959 novel To Sir With Love.  The indomitable E R Braithwaite received a standing ovation at the Royal and Derngate Theatre when the audience realised he had been sitting amongst them throughout the performance.

Set in post-war Stepney, this semi-autobiographical novel  follows  a black schoolmaster's attempt to tame a class of unruly  kids who do everything in their power to make his life a misery. Despite his lack of experience the teacher stays strong in the face of extreme provocation and gradually gains the respect of his pupils. Clearly a tale of its time, the play points the finger at upper class racism as didthe hugely successful  nineteen sixties film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner just a decade later.

Contrast this with Channel Four's Educating Yorkshire  which was heavily criticised in the  Mail's TV review column today.  According to Christopher Stevens 'Cliques of arrogant, swaggering pupils had the staff dancing to their every command... The savvier youngsters took all the advantage they could. It was sickening to watch.'

Educating Yorkshire takes the cameras inside Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, where head teacher Jonny Mitchell prefers be on equal terms with his charges, greeting them with a cheery 'Hello Mate' at the start of a new term.

We've all come across a teacher who battles to control their class at some time or other. But a head teacher who doesn't command respect?  Now that's  a different story altogether. What do you think?

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Spread the word....

And now for some good news. My new novel Baggy Pants and Bootees is to be published under the Safkhet Soul imprint as an e-book and paperback in 2014,  and celebrations are already underway in the Chapman household!

A romantic mystery, Baggy Pants and Bootees was shortlisted for the Festival Of Romance New Talent award 2012 under the working title Sophie's Secret.

Based in London and Germany, Safkhet Publishing was founded in 2010 by Dr.jur. William Banks Sutton and Kim Maya Sutton. Interestingly, Safkhet is the Egyptian goddess of wisdom, books and libraries as well as the consort of Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing.  It seems she was accredited with the invention of writing, being  both a scribe and record keeper. Which makes the publisher's name especially appropriate, don't you think?

One of the company's recently signed authors, Suzie Tullett, has been shortlisted for the Guardian's Not the Booker Prize and will be appearing on a panel at the Wood Green Literary Festival  in London when the judging takes place.

So that's the end of the good news.  Now I'd better get back to my writing - the next novel is just taking shape...


Monday, 2 September 2013

The Big Friendly Letter!

As Roald Dahl Day fast approaches, a  letter the author sent to a lifelong fan almost thirty years ago has come into my possession. And what an amusing missive it is!
The letter belonged to a former Essex hotelier who wrote to the 'Tales of the Unexpected' author at the ITV Press Office in London's Tottenham Court Road in 1986.  Rose-Marie Scheel had devised a plot for one of the famous half-hour dramas and asked permission send it, such were the manners of those days...
'No, please don't send me any more stories, but thank you so much for asking before sending,' replied Mr Dahl. 'Most people simly push them at me and I don't know what to do with them all..'
Mrs Sheel had told the author  her son was 'reared with James and the Giant Peach' and thanked him for all the pleasure he had given to the family. So what was the plot she had in mind?
'My father had a wine cellar,' she told me this weekend at an antiques fair in Lytham, Lancashire, 'and I thought it would be a wonderful setting for a myster. Although Roald Dahl declined the offer, I was thrilled to get his autograph and have treasured it ever since. Now I want someone else to enjoy it.'
Her plot may remain a secret, but I reckon the  Big Friendly Giant knows something about it. Don't you?

Roald Dahl Day is on September 13, 2013. Tickets available at the Roal Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.